Chernobyl Litany, by Gemma Files



It goes up, forever. Changes the sky’s color.
A howl in the sere grass. A death, root-sunken,
resonates down into the water table, nested rings
of shale and lava. A tremble in the hand, a shiver.

It lasts a thousand years. Unknits your cells,
decays you from core code outwards. Your veins unravel,
spill black pus and yellow, lymph. The dead flux,
all white, no red.
You become a hot sack, plague-full, radiant.
You can no longer be touched.
They bury you in lead,
under concrete, a salt-sown field.

Your grave now marks
where all past futures end.


You eat light in slices, citrine
uranium glass at your wrists, throat
leaking slowly.

The elephant’s foot spreads out, like rot—
bulges to block the way back in, even
through that unlocked door.
No way to take photos:
every frame of film exposes itself
on contact.

This gray bulge of something nascent,
a plague unborn.
In future we will know it
only through its symptoms.


It was never as bad as thought, just
exactly bad enough.
As bad as unnecessary.
When asked how much more
might be needed, the answer, always:

Formerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published for collections of short work, three collections of speculative poetry, a Weird Western trilogy, a story-cycle and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2016 Sunburst Award for Best Adult Novel). She has a new story collection just out from Grimscribe Press (In This Endlessness, Our End), and another upcoming. 

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